I’m Having a Really Nice Time and Jim Wilbur is The King of Punk: A Superchunk Concert Review.

I went and saw Superchunk last week for what I think was the seventh or eighth time. I try and make an effort to go to a lot of Superchunk shows because they’re the greatest American rock band of all time. I’ll kind of tell you why through a series of meandering personal anecdotes and fun facts, but let’s first start by turning the clock back thirty years. 

The year is 1994. All of my shirts are XL for some reason. There’s a stick of Nag Champa burning next to a skateboard. A newly acquired CD boombox is blasting In On The Kill Taker. A pair of shredded Etnies lay on the floor. They stink. I’m a little stoned. (This is the abridged version of me setting the scene for something that’s happening in 1994, it was a lot longer in the original draft). My older sister has just brought home a copy of Foolish by Superchunk. 

I’ve been a fan ever since then, and their live shows over the years have more than lived up to the band’s vast and storied catalog. They don’t put out bad records. They’re always there for you. Sure, they had the hiatus after Here’s To Shutting Up for a few years, but they more than made up for it in 2010 with an album to rival any of their older material, Majesty Shredding, followed by three more great full lengths and a 50 song B-sides comp. They also just released another new single a few weeks ago, and it’s an absolute banger. 

When Laura Ballance quit touring with them about ten years ago, indie rock Swiss army knife Jason Narducy seamlessly filled in on the bass. No momentum lost. Their last record, 2022’s Wild Lonliness did feel a bit like a swan song, however. I enjoyed it, and would pit “If You’re Not Dark” against any of their classic songs, but it had a feeling of finality to it. This concern was further intensified when I saw them on that tour in April of 2022. For the first time in my entire adult life, Superchunk didn’t look like they were having much fun. The remainder of that tour was cancelled because they got Covid, so maybe they were just drained. Even Superchunk are entitled to an off night, no judgment. I’m often not great at least 3 times a week for no reason. 

I was excited to see they were coming through Portland again this February, wanting to dispel the possibility that they were perhaps on the wane. Jon Wurster has recently left the band, having been the drummer since 1991, and so too was touring bassist Jason Narducy absent. Laura (a different one) King and Betsy Wright from Bat Fangs have replaced them in the lineup, further adding to the mystery of what I’d be in for.  Fucked Up being on the bill was a bonus.

Four of my friends committed to coming with me. That’s an extraordinary number for a middle-aged group of men on a Tuesday. One of them bailed, so I gave away the ticket to someone on Reddit. Given the likelihood this person wanting a last minute single ticket to a Tuesday night Superchunk show is someone I’d probably have a lot in common with, coupled with how bad men my age are at making and maintaining friendships, I’m going to go ahead and count effinwhatever with an alien avatar from Reddit as one of the four friends I went with. 

Fucked Up were the solitary opener, hitting the stage promptly at 8pm by belting out “Baiting The Public”. I have a hard time gauging the popularity of this band. I feel like there was a time they were courted by the Coachella and Pitchfork types, and received a lot hype for Damian’s stage antics. In my mind, they were maybe bigger than Superchunk, but not many people appeared to be here for them. Folks were still filtering in during the set, which sounded great. “Queen of Hearts” is about as good as songs get. The highlight was them closing with a ripping version of “Dose Your Dreams”. They did one of those extended outros where members stop playing and leave the stage one at a time, but staggering it until it’s just drums and feedback. Worth the price of admission already. I tried really hard to get some decent pictures of both bands, but it cannot be overstated how much I suck at taking pictures at shows. I wouldn’t feel so bad about it, but I’m looking around at other people’s phones in the air, and their footage looks incredible.

None of my pictures turned out, so here’s a picture of another guy. (perhaps effinwhatever from RedditI don’t know) who was good at taking show pictures. 

Here is a picture of me taking shitty pictures.

Here is a shitty picture I took.

This is honestly the best one, and I took it from the hallway outside the entry. 

Between sets we head back to the bar and get another drink. We’re all being responsible because of the normal reasons people are, but also because we’ve become increasingly terrified of hangovers as we get older. I’m drinking wine. This is the first time I’ve ever done this at a show. It’s what I do at home for fun when I’m hanging out with my wife, so it should be a transferable skill. It was. 

Superchunk come out on stage and Jim Wilbur says something funny. I’m excited, but aware of the delicate balance of the waterline in my small $8 cup of pinot noir. Show wine is not like show beers. One must be careful. There’s not as much of it, and it’s red. As I take sip, they open with “Swallow That”, not only one of my favorite underrated songs off On The Mouth, but also an affirmation of my drink choice. This is followed by two more from the same album, “Package Thief” and “New Low”. If you’re familiar with their catalog, you recognize this is an almost unfathomably excellent run to start the show. They continue with “Crossed Wires”, the precursor single to the aforementioned 2010 comeback record, followed by a 1991’s “Seed Toss”. 

I forgot to mention, the band sounds fucking great. Betsy and Laura K have great chemistry with Jim and Mac, and they’re a proper unit. Any worries I had of them slipping have been completely forgotten. They then break into a couple songs from 1995’s Here’s Where The Strings Come In, starting with “Detroit Has A Skyline”. Mac starts jumping around, and everyone in the building has a huge smile on their face, including the four people in Superchunk. “Silvery Leaf and Snowy Tears” follows, an unexpected treat and real hidden gem of their catalog. 

I think every time I’ve seen them they play “Water Wings”, and this time was no different. It sounded fantastic and was the first selection of the evening from Foolish, the album my sister brought home 30 years prior. “Low F” and it’s ripping solo is next, and then they really shine with their new one “Everybody Dies”. That a band who has been around for so long can still write a song like that is unreal. My number one jam from Foolish, “Driveway to Driveway” happens next. This song holds a special place in my heart, as it was the first song by the band to really hook me. Jon Wurster’s portrayal of the aloof millionaire at the wedding in the music video is worth looking up on YouTube. The regular set closes out with songs from all eras of their catalog, “Break The Glass”, “Cast Iron”, “Me & You & Jackie Mittoo”, and the anthemic “Slack Motherfucker”. 

Hold on though, the people want more! “If You’re Not Dark”, the brooding closing track off 2022’s Wild Loneliness kicks off the encore. Damiam from Fucked Up comes out and does a duet on “Our Work Is Done”, and it’s cool because, being the ultimate punk nerd he is, he’s really enjoying himself out there. The classic hit, “Precision Auto” is next, and although Damian has exited the stage, you can still see him rocking out by himself behind the curtains and amps like he’s in the crowd. That weirdo is one of us. The show ends the way On The Mouth does, with “The Only Piece You Get”. Such an awesome closer, and bringing it full circle. It fit so well to have the show open with the slow final song on side A of On The Mouth, and then have it end with the final slow song from side B. We’re left standing there exchanging thoughtful analysis to each other like, “that was sick!” and “dude!”, grinning like complete idiots.

The excitement isn’t over though. We head over to the merch table and Mac himself is manning it. I pick up a CD copy of the new B-sides collection, and my friend talks himself into buying an On The Mouth t shirt that’s only available in small. We chit chat with Mac for a minute, and as we leave he thanks us for coming and wishes my friend luck with fitting into his tiny shirt. 

I had a hard time falling asleep that night because I was still buzzing from the show. I laid there thinking about where I was in my life when different Superchunk records came out, and how really more than any other band they are the soundtrack to me being an adult. They’re incredibly special, and remarkably consistent. I have no doubt that the hundreds of songs they’ve written, along with hopefully the hundreds they have yet to get to, will always be a part of my life. 

The next morning I woke up to look at the notes I had tried to write during the show. Aside from a cryptic and nearly illegible setlist, I had only two things written down. 

1.) I’m having a really nice time.
2.) Jim Wilbur is the king of punk.

–Zack Akenson

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